Controversy Over Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize Resurfaces
The Nobel Prize for Literature has seen its share of controversy, and records recently released from the Swedish Academy’s archives would suggest this isn’t a new state of affairs.
In 1962, American literary giant John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, beating a shortlist of 66 authors including the likes of French dramatist Jean Anouilh, Danish author Karen Blixen, and British authors Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell. But the choice was not an easy one, according to committee member Henry Olsson:
There aren't any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation.
So, rather than give it to no one, they chose a winner whose victory would be widely criticised by the press on both sides of the pond, mainly because Steinbeck’s most influential works had been published decades before. Graves was discounted by the committee because he was more of a poet than a novelist; Blixen had the audacity to die the September before the award; and Durrell’s work had a “preoccupation with erotic complications.”
And as Steinbeck had been previously nominated 8 times, maybe they thought they’d throw him a bone for his 1961 novel The Winter of Our Discontent. The author appears to have been surprised by it, too. When asked if he deserved the Nobel, he replied: "Frankly, no."
Would it have been more honest to not award the Nobel that year? Did Steinbeck deserve it? I tend to take these prize thingies with a pinch of salt -- I rarely agree with the winners of literary awards these days…
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